Prince William sent hearts aflutter last week as pictures emerged of his volunteer work in Chile. RUDI VIS, MP for Finchley & Golders Green, writes in praise of such endeavours

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2001 the International Year of Volunteering.

The UN Volunteers programme has been designed as the focal point for its preparations. Finchley and Golders Green is honoured in having thousands of volunteers in its midst and without their dedicated endeavours life would be much poorer, much more difficult to endure and much more barren.

It is high time that we celebrate and congratulate those women and men, and let's not forget the army of young volunteers, for their hours and days freely given up to assist those who need it and to improve lives by checking the powers ~of institutions, multinationals and government for the good of our society.

No state can exist without volunteers, whether they are individuals or groups, organised or informal. In many countries voluntary action contributes significantly to both society and the economy and fosters social cohesion and political stability.

The average economic contribution alone made to society by voluntary activity is estimated at eight per cent of gross domestic product and may even reach 14 per cent of GDP depending on the country concerned. Translated into money terms that means an annual economic contribution of tens of billions of pounds in the UK.

Voluntary action involves learning, sharing and acquiring experience of life, civic spirit and vocational skills. It transmits knowledge and often leads of real job creation.

I have written to Tony Blair asking him to contribute next year one day in his busy life to volunteering. He agreed to do so as did all senior members of the Government. They could hardly refuse. We are now asking the Government to identify and eliminate in our laws and practice any obstacles which directly or indirectly prevent people from engaging in voluntary action and to adopt and promote dynamic policies favouring volunteering.

We also wish voluntary workers to have legal status and adequate social protection, while of course respecting their independence.

In the Council of Europe we are urging member states to sponsor the organisation of an annual European television contest in association with Eurovision, designed to reward outstanding individual, group and community volunteer achievements.

Naturally we are asking for a taxation friendly attitude to voluntary work and we hope that volunteering will increase even further by making sure that volunteers will be recompensed for out of pocket expenses.

My Season's Greetings are for all of you and I hope that you will have a wonderful and prosperous 2001. My special thanks go to our volunteers for their valiant efforts and dedication in the past. May it continue and flourish even further in the future.